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    UN Security Council condemns Iranian diplomat killings

    UNITED NATIONS, Sept 10 (AFP) - The UN Security Council on Thursday condemned the killing in Afghanistan of nine Iranian diplomats, and called for an urgent investigation.

    Responding swiftly to a telephone call from Iranian Foreign Minister Kamal Kharazi to council president Hans Dahlgren and a letter from the Iranian ambassador, the council members also urged "maximum restraint" by all parties.

    In a statement read to reporters after a closed-door briefing on the latest developments by a senior UN official, Dahlgren said the council members "condemn these heinous (eds: correct) acts and violations of international law.

    "They call for an urgent investigation into these crimes so that perpetrators can be brought to justice," he said.

    The council did not refer to the Islamic Taliban militia, accused by Iran of responsibility for the murders, except to urge them to cooperate fully in ensuring the release and safety of other Iranian nationals missing in Afghanistan.

    The Pakistan-backed Taliban said Thursday it had found the bodies of nine Iranian diplomats on the outskirts of Mazar-i-Sharif who had been missing since the militia seized the northern Afghan city August 8.

    However a 10th diplomat and a journalist were still unaccounted for.

    The council members "expressed concern over renewed tension in the region and reiterated the need for the Afghan crisis to be settled by peaceful means through direct negotiations between the Afghan factions," Dahlgren said.

    The council also welcomed plans for a joint fact-finding mission with the participation of Iran, Pakistan and the United Nations.

    UN chief Kofi Annan has been attempting to arrange such a fact-finding mission after Iran, which supports the northern alliance opposed to the Taliban forces, called for such an investigation in a letter on September 3.

    Annan had no immediate reaction on Thursday to the announcement that the nine bodies had been found.

    In his letter to the council, Iran's UN ambassador Hadi Nejad Hosseinian called on the council to take "urgent and necessary measures" following the murders.

    "The cold-blooded murder of Iranian diplomats in Afghanistan by Taliban constitute a war crime," he said.

    The Taliban's actions had "seriously escalated tension and jeopardized peace and security in the region, and as such make it imperative for the Security Council to adopt preventive measures."

    Dahlgren said that the council did not plan any further action at this stage, but noted that the "pretty tense" situation between Iran and Afghanistan meant that the council was likely to discuss developments again.


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